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Forget the Old Masters, It’s All About the Old Monsters

The weight of my body rises to meet me uneasily as the soft shape of a thing presses, then crumbles under my right sole. It crushes the way a biscuit might disintegrate underfoot, but somehow with a squeak, the clay turns to dust. 


I turn around to inspect my misplacement and tread soft grey across the floor. It leaves a matte print of my pad, and as I crouch down, using my hands to gather it up, small particles scatter and settle in the spaces between the boards and compress against the sides of my palms. Little channels of powder.


I need to fix the hoover.


I take off my socks, rolling them up with the clay inside, and chuck them in the washing basket. I pad through to the kitchen to find and soak a cloth to wipe up what I can. A 

dustpan and brush will only move the stuff around and get it in the air. A damp cloth works.


It is common knowledge that it is dangerous to breath in dust, especially from clay. Clay is pretty much just crushed rock, and while it might sit lightly as dust, the combined material amounts to the mass of solid stone. Water captures the wayward particles and prevents them from meeting the air, meeting the lungs. 


I don’t know when I first became aware of this, I guess that’s just what happens when things are held in common. In the 1st century BCE, Lucretius wrote a poem which is really an essay, where he expands upon Epicurean atomism. To him, everything exudes something called a ‘film’ which then floats around in the air like a ghost, and we only become aware of them when they physically enter our bodies, through our openings (eyes, ears, nose, mouth) provoking sensation.1


Some knowings are just like that. They seem to hover in the space around us, as the world around us changes as we do with it, little by/and little. Accumulation. I was told my mother’s father died after a lifetime’s worth of flour settled in his lungs. He ran a bakery in a town in Ayrshire, and won awards for his bread. It’s never put me off baking.

Those most stubborn of human creations – plastic, pots and glass – are all made for holding.

I’ve been making these pots. Because. I’m interested in what I might put in them, or on them. We make vessels, and those then hold and keep until they are emptied. I have a lot of empty plant pots that have been abandoned after being outgrown, like seashells. While plants germinate, bloom and die, the plastic and ceramic that hold them hardly changes. Mould and beetles will metabolise the cellulose of the stem, leaves and roots, but ceramic endures as it’s molecular structure is closer to a fossil than a plant.


There are vessels which millennia later still hold the last grains, not-digested-yet, like the last meal in a bog man’s stomach.2 Some are stained with smoke or wine, carrying the residue of what was once useful, of could-be sustenance. There are vessels that hold the sounds we throw into them too. That already-gone moment of sound’s shape might yet echo when we put our ear to the rim.3

That tussle between accumulation and  residue, Capital relies on hierarchies built  in the past. Those living still work within the ideologies of the dead, with the material of the not-living, or no longer alive. So what does dead mean exactly? 

I was reaching through the internet one day, as you do when you have the privilege of access. I found a plastic bag with small stones in it.


Loose Dinosaur Bones


250 grams (approx. 200 pieces)




Dinosaur bones? How long my arms must be to touch a creature long extinct.


£5.75 + £2.50 postage and packaging.


I bought them. The stones (bones?).


They arrived in a plastic bag the size of my hand. Far smaller than they looked in the picture. Many fine grains had gathered at the bottom, their own mass and the earth’s gravity reducing the fossils to dust. When I poke my finger into the bag it comes out reddish-brown. I can’t tell if it’s dirt or dinosaur.

There’s this double portrait that’s quite famous. It’s called The Ambassadors and it’s by Hans Holbein the Younger. There are these two men standing in front of a green curtain and between them is a shelving unit with a bunch of different objects on it and the objects are all very specifically endowed with SYMBOLISM. They are there to tell you more about these important men, how clever and pious and rich they are.


The men rest their elbows on the top shelf, between them a celestial globe, a shepherd’s dial, a quadrant and a sundial; instruments of science, representing the hierarchies of knowledge central to Renaissance Humanist belief with Reason at its height.


They rest on a carpet called a “Holbein” by art historians (how interesting to call an object by the name of the one who paints its likeness rather than the one who made it). It’s geometric design a reference to Tudor trade with Venice, Turkey and Persia. It alludes to Henry VIII’s extensive collection of rugs, placing the sitters closer to the King. (There’s that urge to collect and keep. Again. What long arms you must have to gather and hold. How many arms, how large a vessel, a basket, a palace?)


They are both bearded and wearing berets. One of them is wearing a very nice pink shirt with a short sleeved puffy jacket with fur around it. The other one is all in black. V chic.


Whoever wants to make black dye, he takes oak galls and pulverizes them and adds alum thereto and boils it in a skillful way with alum and in urine and dyes therewith4


If you’ve ever tried to dye an old garment black and had it come out grey, you know how  lightly black clings to cloth. 500 years ago someone would have had to dye those robes over and over and over again to get that deep dark pious black.


Black clothing had infinite possibilities in combination with face, pose, background, and embellishments. If he were a learned doctor, such as Erasmus or More, and his professional gown was black anyway, so much the better; his personal qualities could be built all the better into the image of his function and even more prestige accrue to the wearing of black garments–especially if the artist were a genius like Holbein.5


The men stand on a tiled floor, a floor that also paves Westminster Abbey, with a design that represents the macrocosm of the Early Renaissance, laid 300 years before Holbein painted it’s likeness on oak. Across the floor in the painting there’s a big brown and black splurge which looks pretty out of place. It’s a human skull, but you can only tell if you are in a room with the painting and walk right up to it, looking across the frame from the side. That’s why I’ve heard of it, why it’s famous. To me, the anamorphic skull has lost its potency as a

representation of death, but the pleasure that I take from The Ambassadors is in the mortality it celebrates in the context that I view it in. An image on the screen, built of light, transversing space and time. A mortality that emerges through distortion: change rather than end. Things are neither born nor die, though they can turn away from each other and change states. Things haven’t changed so drastically that we cannot recognise The Ambassadors in the cultural and political figures around us now









If the reader wisely considers all that is laid down, he will find here the end of the primum mobile; a hedge [lives for] three years, add dogs and horses and men, stags and ravens, eagles, enormous whales, the world: each one following triples the years of the one before.

The spherical globe here shows the archetypal macrocosm.


Until scientists agreed that the earth revolves around the sun, the primum mobile (or first moved) was understood to be everything that moves around the stationary globe: the sky, stars, planets, the sun and the moon.

An inscription claims that Abbey’s floor will last until the end of the primum mobile, the end of the universe.6 The date of the Apocalypse is calculated by the lifespans of animals tripled – 19,683 years after the inscription was laid, in 1298 CE. I have to say I find this a little unrealistic. After all, before the last restoration in 2010, it wasn’t looking so good. Grime had turned the rich coloured glass and marble muddy, after 500 years of footsteps and a further century under carpet. It takes a lot of effort to halt the onslaught of time, or rather, the onslaught of deterioration. Those monuments and figures that persist do so by the hands of people in the present.

Fossils are formed when organic matter like blood cells, collagen and fat break down. The inorganic parts of the bone remain, the parts built from minerals like calcium. 


Over time, water fills the gaps and leaves behind iron and calcium carbonate. A slow process of minerals from the surrounding landscape filtering through organic matter with the aid of rain and rivers.


A gradual drip.


The components of the land gather in skeletal pockets. So these are not living any more, they are space filled by minerals, growing.

Most ceramics we encounter tend to be sealed with a glaze. When clay is fired, the chemical structure changes, intense heat allows the particles to fuse together, to vitrify. It is similar to the way that igneous rocks are formed under immense heat and pressure. They pour from the earth’s crust, bringing elements (iron, silicon etc) up to the surface with them.


Glazes do the same. They dance the same dance, spilling, filling the pores of the clay body, drawing out and pushing in to make those colours, the shine that we desire. An alchemist who understands the chemical repertoire of fire, clay and glaze can sing along to the tune, adding their own counter-melody. I, on the other hand, am a spectator. All I can do is watch and listen.

Raku means “enjoyment”, and it is a name that was given to the family who began developing this technique of firing ceramics in Japan 500 years ago, around the same time Holbein was painting The Ambassadors. Raku-the-name was given to the adopted son of Chōjirō, a tile maker who was asked to make tea bowls for Sen no Rikyu’s first Tea Ceremonies.7 Raku Kichizaemon (15 generations later) continues to use and develop Raku ware now.


In the Raku process the kiln is fired up quickly, causing the clay bodies to glow like burning coals and glaze to melt into a sheet of molten glass. If the pieces do not explode or crack with the shock of the temperature, they are taken out of the kiln while they are still glowing orange-red. When they are plunged straight into cold water or snow, or placed in a barrel full of sawdust, the glaze will crackle, smoke will alter the colour of the clay and the glaze. The drama of red hot to pure cold is an intense end to the transformation that turns dirt, stone and water into a piece of art. The aesthetic charms of Raku pottery are it’s cracks, it’s crackles and the dark smoke that licks across its surface. Each of these marks are a testament to the persistence of the material even under immense stress. The beauty in Raku is that of survival.


Chōjirō made a tea bowl called Nothing (Muichibutsu)[1]. I saw it once in a museum near Kyoto. The Juraku red clay looks like it might warp to the shape of the hands that hold it, or turn to dirt at the lips that touch it. I think it could have been glazed with dinosaur bone.

I looked at the fossil fragments, each a slightly different colour ranging from black to cream, light pink to terracotta. I imagined their small white speckles and cell-like ridges were evidence of their previous incarnation as the interior of a femur or a shard of scapula. I look up ‘how fossils are formed’.

I say it could have been glazed with dinosaur bone because that texture of earth and grit seems to me to have a kinship with the dust I found in the plastic bag. The dust that I’ve been painting onto vessels and firing. The reddish colour comes from iron. Iron makes up 5% of the earth’s crust and is pretty common in sedimentary rocks, and a lot of meteorites too. Most of the iron we carry around is in the haemoglobin in our blood, it helps carry oxygen through our bodies. It’s why our blood is red, like the sandstone that makes up the walls of our tenements. There’s a pretty diagram on Wikipedia. It looks like the plan for a garden. A mitochondrion pond surrounded by labile iron poppies, an endosome patio and ferritin pansies.

Fionn Duffy considers the relationship between body and clay

  1. Lucretius Carus, Titus, Alicia Elsbeth Stallings, and Richard Jenkyns (2015). The Nature of Things. London: Penguin Books.
  2. Glob, Peter Vilhelm (2010). The Bog People: Iron-Age Man Preserved. London: Faber and Faber. First published in 1965.
  3. Godman, Rob. ‘The Enigma of Vitruvian Resonating Vases and the Relevance of the Concept for Today’. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 122, no. 5 (2007): 3054.
  4. Dye Recipies From The Innsbruck Manuscript. Available here.
  5. Hollander, Anne (1993). Seeing through Clothes. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  6. Dean and Chapter of Westminster. 2019. Cosmati Pavement. Westminster Abbey. Available here.
  7. Raku, Kichizaemon XV (2012). Chawanya. Kyoto: Tankōsha Publishing Company.

by Fionn Duffy

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We are occasionally meeting ladies attacked with oryalpelatous symptoms, indigestion, cough–now distinctly traceable to head-dresses containing green arsenical artificial flowers. A careful chemical analysis of one of these wreaths gives exactly as much arsenic as would kill 56 men, and a fair tarlatane dress would kill 1,500!

– ‘M.D.’ quoted in Green Go the Lasses, O!, published in Punch October 5th, 1861

At the top of Leonard Parry’s 1900 list of the risks and dangers of various occupations were those ‘accompanied by the generation and scattering of abnormal quantities of dust’. 

– from Dust by Carolyn Steedman, 2001

Discussing occupations ‘from the social, hygienic and medical points of view’ in 1916, Thomas Oliver urged his readers to remember ‘that the greatest enemy of a worker in any trade is dust’

– from Dust by Carolyn Steedman, 2001

Leather workers and medical commentators also knew that the processes of fellmongering, washing, limescrubbing, scrapping, further washing, chemical curing, stretching, drying and dressing all gave rise to dust, which was inhaled. 

– from Dust by Carolyn Steedman, 2001

By the 1920s it was common knowledge that among workers in wool, hides and hair that it was the anthrax spore that constituted the greatest danger.

– from Dust by Carolyn Steedman, 2001

…the sweeps, dustmen, scavengers, &c., are paid (and often large sums) for the removal of the refuse they collect; whereas the bone-grubbers, and mud-larks, and pure-finders, and dredgemen, and sewer-hunters, get their pains only the value of the articles they gather.

– from London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851

The bone-picker and rag-gatherer may be known at once by the greasy back which he carries on his back. Usually he has a stick in his hand, and this is armed with a spike or a hook, for the purpose of more easily turning over the heaps of ashes or dirt that are thrown out of the houses, and discovering whether they contain anything that is saleable at the rag-and-bottle or marine-store shop.

– from London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851

It is dangerous to venture far into any of the smaller sewers branching off from the main, for in this the ‘hunters’ have to stoop low down in order to proceed; and, from the confined space, there are often accumulated in such places, large quantities of foul air, which, as one of them stated, will ‘cause instantaneous death’.

– from London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851

‘Bless your heart the smell’s nothink; it’s a roughish smell at first, but nothink so bad as you thinks, ‘cause, you see, there’s sich lots o’ water always a coming down the sewer, and the air gits in from the gratings, and that helps to sweeten it a bit. There’s some places, ‘specially in the old sewers, where they say there’s foul air, and they tells me the foul air ‘ill cause instantaneous death, but I niver met with anythink of the kind, and I think if there was sich a thing I should know somethink about it, for I’ve worked the sewers, off and on, for twenty year.’

– sewer ‘Tosher’ quoted in London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851

Some notion of the vast amount of this refuse annually produced in London may be formed from the fact that the consumption of coal in the metropolis is, according to the official returns, 3,500,000 tons per annum, which is at the rate of little more than 11 tons per house; the poorer families, it is true, do not burn more than 2 tons in the course of the year, but then many such families reside in the same house, and hence the average will appear in no way excessive.

– from London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851

A dust-heap, therefore, may be briefly said to be composed of the following things, which are severally applied to the following uses:

  1. ‘Soil’, or fine dust, sold to brickmakers, for burning bricks, and to farmers for manure, especially for clover.
  2. ‘Brieze’, or cinders, sold to brickmakers, for burning bricks.
  3. Rags, bones and old metal, sold to marine-store dealers.
  4. Old tin and iron vessels, sold for ‘clamps’ to trunks, &c., and for making copperas.
  5. Old bricks and oyster shells, sold to builders, for sinking foundations, and forming roads.
  6. Old boots and shoes, sold to Prussian-blue manufacturers.
  7. Money and jewellery, kept, or sold

– from London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851

A visit to any of the large dust-yards is far from uninteresting. Near the centre of the yard rises the highest heap, composed of what is called the ‘soil’, or finer portion of the dust used for manure. Around this heap are numerous lesser heaps, consisting of the mixed dust and rubbish carted in and shot down previous to sifting. Among these heaps are many women and old men with sieves made of iron, all busily engaged in separating the ‘brieze’ from the ‘soil’. There is likewise another large heap in some other part of the yard, composed of the cinders or ‘brieze ‘waiting to be shipped off to the brickfields. 

– from London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851

The whole yard seems alive, some sifting and others shovelling the sifted soil on to the heap, while every now and then the dustcarts return to discharge their loads, and proceed again on their rounds for a fresh supply. Cocks and hens keep up a continual scratching and cackling among the heaps, and numerous pigs seem to find a great delight in rooting incessantly about after the garbage and eiffel collected from the houses and markets.

– from London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851

The chimney sweepers are generally fond of drink; indeed their calling, like that of the dustmen, is one of those which naturally lead to it. The men declare they are ordered to drink gin and smoke as much as they can, in order to rid the stomach of the soot they may have swallowed during their work.

– from London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851

 In one of the reports of the Board of Health, out of 4,312 deaths among males, of the age of 15 and upwards, the mortality among the sweepers, masters and men, was 9, or one in 109 of the whole trade…Many of these men still suffer, I am told, from the chimney-sweeper’s cancer [cancer of the testicles or scrotum], which is said to arise mainly from uncleanly habits. Some sweepers assure me they have vomited balls of soot.

– from London Labour and the London Poor by Henry Mayhew, 1851

But I will infer, that if this goodly City justly challenges what is her due, and merits all that can be said to reinforce his Praises, and give her Title; she is to be relieved from that which renders her less healthy, really offends her, and which darkens and eclipses all her other Attributes. And what is all this, but that Hellish and dismal Cloud of SEA-COALE? Which is not onely perpetual imminent over her head

– from Fumifugium by John Evelyn, 1661

But so universally mixed with the otherwise wholesome and excellent Aer, that her Inhabitants breathe nothing but an impure and thick Mist, accompanied by a fuliginous and filthy vapour, which renders them obnoxious to a thousand inconveniences, corrupting the Lungs, and disordering the entire habit of their Bodies; so that Catharrs, Phthisicks, Coughs and Consumptions, rage more in this one City, than the whole Earth besides.

– from Fumifugium by John Evelyn, 1661

Whilst these are belching it for their sooty jaws, the City of London resembles the face of Mount Aetna, the Court of Vulcan, Stromboli, or the Suburbs of Hell, than an Assembly of Rational Creatures, and the imperial seat of our incomparable Monarch. For when in all other places the Aer is most Serene and Pure, it is here Eclipsed with such a Cloud of Sulphure, as the Sun itself, which gives day to all the World besides, is hardly able to penetrate and impart it here; and the weary Traveller, at many Miles distance, sooner smells, than sees the City to which he repairs. 

– from Fumifugium by John Evelyn, 1661

This is that pernicious Smoake which sullyes all her Glory, superinducing a sooty Crust or Fur upon all that is lights, spoiling the moveables, tarnishing the Plate, Gildings and Furniture, and corroding the very Iron-bars and hardest Stones with those piercing and acrimonious Spirits which accompany its Sulphure; and executing more in one year, than exposed to the pure Aer of the Country it could effect in some hundreds.

– from Fumifugium by John Evelyn, 1661

So far from the smoke of London being offensive to me, it has always been to my imagination the sublime canopy that shrouds the City of the World. Drifted by the wind or hanging in gloomy grandeur over the vastness of our Babylon, the sight of it always filled my mind with feelings of energy such as no other spectacle could inspire. 

– from the Autobiography and Journal of B.R. Haydon, edited by Tom Taylor. Written about 1800-41, published 1847

The work-people, little remarkable for olfactory refinement, instead of thanking their master for his humane attention to their comfort and health, made a formal complaint to him, that the ventilator had increased their appetites, and therefore entitled them to a corresponding increase of wages!…But the master made an ingenious compromise with his servants; by stopping the fan during half the day, he adjusted the ventilation and the voracity of his establishment to a medium standard, after which he heard no complaint either on the score of health or appetite.

– from The Philosophy of Manufactures by Andrew Ure M.D., 1835

The mills! Oh the fetid, fuzzy, ill-ventilated mills! And in Shap’s cyclopean smithy do you remember the poor ‘grinders’ sitting underground in a damp dark place, some dozen of them, over their screeching stone cylinders, from every cylinder a sheet of yellow fire issuing, the principal light of the place? And the men, I was told, and they themselves know it, and ‘did not mind it,’ were all or mostly killed before their time, their lungs being ruined by the metal and stone dust! Those poor fellows, in their paper caps with their roaring gindstones, and their yellow oriflammes of fire, all grinding themselves so quietly to death, will never go out of my memory. 

– from a letter of Thomas Carlyle to Jane Welsh Carlyle, quoted in Thomas Carlyle, a History of His Life in London, by J.A. Froude, 1884

…a city of Dis (Dante’s) – clouds of smoke – the damned etc – coal barges – coaly waters, cast-iron Duke, etc – its marks are left on you…

– from Journal of a Visit to London and the Continent by Herman Melville, edited by Eleanor Melville Metcalf, 1949

As I walked restless and despondent through the gloomy city, 

And saw the eager unresting to and fro – as of ghosts in some sulphurous Hades–

And saw the crowds of tall chimneys going up, and the pall of smoke covering the sun, covering the earth, lying heavy against the very ground –

And saw the huge refuse-heaps writhing with children picking them over,

And the ghastly half-roofless smoke-blackened houses, and the black river flowing below,–

As I saw these, and as I saw again far away the Capitalist quarter,

With its villa residences and its high-walled gardens and its well-appointed carriages, and its face turned away from the wriggling poverty which made it rich,–

As I saw and remembered its drawing-room airs and affections and its wheezy pursy Church-going and its gas-reeking heavy-furnished rooms and its scent-bottles and its other abominations –

I shuddered:

For I felt stifled, like one who lies half-conscious – knowing not clearly the shape of the evil – in the grasp of some heavy nightmare.

– from Towards Democracy by Edward Carpenter, 1883

Now as to the Grandour of London, Would not England be easier and perhaps stronger if these vitals were more equally dispersed? Is there not a Tumour in that place, and too much matter for mutiny and Terrour to the Government if it should Burst? Is there not too much of our capital in one stake, liable to the Ravage of Plague and fire? Does not the Assembly too much increase Mortality and lessen Births, and the Church-yards become Infectious? Will not the Resort of the Wealthy and emulation to Luxury, melt down the order of Superiors among and bring all towards Levelling and Republican?

– from a letter of Robert Southwell to Sir William Petty, published in the Petty-Southwell Correspondence, edited by the Marquis of Lansdowne, 1928

Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes – gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun.  

– from Bleak House by Charles Dickens, 1853

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutants of a great (and dirty) city.  

– from Bleak House by Charles Dickens, 1853

The life here, like the atmosphere here, is bad for the weak, for the frail, for one who seeks a prop outside himself, for one who seeks cordiality, sympathy, attention; the moral lungs here must be as strong as the physical lungs, whose task is to get rid of the sulphuric acid in the smoky fog. The masses are saved by their struggle for daily bread, the commercial classes by their absorption in heaping up wealth, and all by the fuss and hurry of business; but nervous and romantic temperaments, fond of living among their fellows, of intellectual sloth and emotional idleness, are bored to death and fall into despair.

– from the Memoirs of Alexander Herzen, translated by Constance Garnett, 1924-27

I wander thro’ each charter’d street,

Near where the charter’d Thames does flow,

And mark in every face I meet

Marks of weakness, markes of woe.


In every cry of every Man,

In every Infant’s cry of fear,

In every voice, in every ban, 

The mind-forg’d manacles I hear.


How the Chimney-sweeper’s cry

Every black’ning Church appalls;

And the hapless Soldier’s sigh

Runs in blood down Palace walls.


But most thro’ midnight streets I hear

How the youthful Harlot’s curse

Blasts the new born Infant’s tear,

And blights with plagues the Marriage hearse.

– ‘London’, from Songs of Experience by William Blake, 1794

On arriving near the top of this road, I obtained a distinct view of a phenomenon which can be seen no where in the world but at this distance from London. The Smoke of nearly a million of coal fires, issuing from the two hundred thousand houses which compose London and its vicinity, had been carried in a compact mass in the direction which lay at a right angle from my station. Half a million chimneys, each vomiting a bushel of smoke per second, had been disgorging themselves for at least six hours of the passing day, and they now produced a sombre tinge, which filled an angle of the horizon equal to 70degrees, or in bulk twenty-five miles long, by two miles high….

– from A Morning’s Walk from London to Kew by Sir Richard Phillips, 1817, originally published in parts 1813-16

In London this smoke is found to blight or destroy all vegetation…Other phenomena are produced by its union with fogs, rendering them nearly opaque, and shutting out the light of the sun; it blackens the mud of the streets by its deposit of tar, while the unctuous mixture renders the foot-pavement slippery; and it produces a solemn gloom whenever a sudden change of wind returns over the town the volume that was previously on its passage into the country. 

– from A Morning’s Walk from London to Kew by Sir Richard Phillips, 1817, originally published in parts 1813-16

Margiela’s re-use of contemporary “rubbish” such as broken shards and plastic carrier bags marks him out as a kind of “Golden Dustman” of the fashion world, converting base material into gold. The transformation of dust to gold is not just fanciful but has historical antecedents. Henry Dodd, a nineteenth-century owner of a great dust-yard in Islington, London, known to Dickens and a possible prototype for Boffin, the Golden Dustman, is said to have given his daughter a wedding gift of a single dust-heap, which afterwards fetched £10,000. 

– Caroline Evans, The Golden Dustman: A critical evaluation of the work of Martin Margiela and a review of Martin Margiela Exhibition (9/4/1615) in Fashion Theory Volume 2, Issue 1 (1998)

For centuries now, ever since the industrial age or maybe even before, it has always been a world of the intellect, reasoning, the machine. Here women were stuck with having tremendous powers of intuition experiencing other levels of reality and other realities yet they had to sit on it because men would say, well, you’re crazy. 

– from O.K. Momma, Who the Hell Am I?, Gloria E. Anzaldua in conversation with Luisah Teish, published in From This Bridge Called My Back, Writings by Radical Women of Color, 1981

Because the machine will try to grind you into dust anyway, whether or not we speak. We can sit in our corners mute forever while our sisters and our selves are wasted, while our children are distorted and destroyed, while our earth is poisoned; we can sit in our safe corners mute as bottles, and we will still be no less afraid.

– from The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action by Audre Lorde, published in I Am Your Sister: Collected and Unpublished Writings of Audre Lorde edited by Rudolph P. Byrd, Johnnetta Betsch Cole & Beverly Guy-Sheftall, 2009

Men on our street who worked in the coal mines came home covered in a thin layer of grayish white dust that looked like ash. Women looked at them and talked about how they made the only really good money a working black man could make. No one talked of the dangers; it was the money that mattered.

– from Where We Stand: Class Matters by Bell Hooks, 2000

And since you are talking about factories and industries, do you not see the tremendous factory hysterically spitting out its cinders in the heart of our forests or deep in the bush, the factory for the production of lackeys; do you not see the prodigious mechanization, the mechanization of man; the gigantic rape of everything intimate, undamaged, undefiled that, despoiled as we are, our human spirit has still managed to the machine, yes, have you never seen it, the machine for crushing, for grinding, for degrading peoples? So that the danger is immense.

– from Discourse on Colonialism by Aimé Césaire, translated by Joan Pinkham, 2000, originally published in 1950

About the year 1863, Van mohair, the goat of the fleece inhabiting the Van district in Asia Minor, was introduced as a textile fabric, and from that time it is said the cases [of anthrax poisoning] become more numerous. This material came to be looked upon by the sorters as specially dangerous, so much so that some of them refused to work it; and a custom arose at certain of the mills for these employés to determine amongst themselves by drawing lots which of them should work upon it, or upon such of it as was regarded with any special apprehension.

– from Mr John Spear’s report to the local government board upon the so called “Woolsorters’ Disease” as observed at Bradford and in neighbouring districts in the west Riding of Yorkshire, 1881